Even a year after release, it’s still hard to believe that Blizzard, a developer with no experience developing shooters, created one of the best competitive shooters of all time. Yes, Overwatch has been out for a full year now (give or take a day depending when this goes up). Since release, we’ve seen Blizzard add new heroes, new maps, new events, co-op modes, and so much more. The best part? They did all of it for free. In a shooter environment dominated by microtransactions and stale gameplay, Overwatch has been a breath of fresh air. Hundreds of hours later, let’s look back on the first year of Overwatch and what made it so damn wonderful.
One of the biggest ideas behind Overwatch is that anyone can be a hero. Since the first reveal where Tracer famously said, “The world could always use more heroes,” players have been the hero of their own stories through countless matches. Sure, Overwatch, like any game, has its frustrations. Even heroes lose sometimes, but the moments where Overwatch delivers on this idea are almost unrivaled in gaming. The thrill of hitting a charging Reinhardt with a sleep dart just as he is about to crush your DPS against a wall or reviving the other 5 members of your team for a last second hold and win, you just can’t do that in other games.
You really can feel like a hero in Overwatch. I’ve had many post game lobbies where we praised each other for clutch plays or unbelievable moments. Then again, it can be devastating when it is the other team that has the real heroes. When they say anyone can be a hero, they mean anyone, not just you and your team. Maybe they should add an asterisk or something. Jokes aside, I can’t tell you how many Genji mains made my life hell as a healer, or how many times we didn’t kill the Mercy and lost as a result.
I remember one particular match with Ross where I (as Soldier: 76) became the personal plaything of a Roadhog who’s hook always hit its mark. Road’s team was up 2-0 on the final point of Ilios and I was full tilt. Our team didn’t have the answers and I was certain we would lose. With the game on the line, I managed to pull off a crucial ultimate and we took the point from the enemy at 99%. We won that round and the next two, a reverse sweep. By the end of the game, the enemy Roadhog was too cocky to help his team and they fell apart. You know what they say, you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
Games like that are why I and millions of others keep coming back and why more and more new players join the game every day. It also helps that Blizzard has kept the game feeling fresh with new content. Competitive mode was the biggest addition after being removed just before launch. Blizzard has made several changes to their competitive format, some good, some not so much, but I’d still say Competitive is the best way to play. For players who are less interested in the competitive side of Overwatch, Arcade mode lets players dabble in some fun alternative modes such as Mystery Hero, 3v3, or 1v1. Players can even make their own custom lobbies with their own rules and settings. Want to force everyone to be Lucio in low gravity with reduced health? You can do that. Overwatch isn’t just a game for tryhards and pro players, it is a game that literally anyone can jump into and find a mode to have fun with.
The game’s first post-release hero Ana, the former second in command of Overwatch, is a sniper/healer and is my new favorite character. She brought a new dynamic to the game by being able to heal and harm without having to change weapons or abilities. She is without a doubt the best new character added to the game since launch and is a common selection at all levels of play. Sombra, the second new character, is an attack hero who specializes in hacking enemies to block their abilities and getting behind enemy line to kill their supports and generally annoy everyone else. What she lacks in raw damage and sustainability she makes up for in her ability to get in unnoticed and get out quickly with her teleport pad. Orisa, the latest addition, is a new tank who can double as a high output damage dealer. She leaves a bit to be desired as a primary tank but can be a disruptive force when she deploys her shields and fires away at enemy barriers. She can boost her teammates’ damage output with her ultimate and make for a punishing push or a swift defensive hold.
Several release characters have been extensively tweaked, such as D.Va, Pharah, and Roadhog (jury is still out on Hook 2.0). Symmetra, the rarely played support from launch, received a full rework changing the entire dynamic of her play. Symmetra could be good in the right hands before her rework, now she is devastating. As someone who plays with a Symmetra main, I’ve seen some shit. I’ve seen her get her teleporter in the first 20 seconds of a game; that’s something that’s hard to beat as an enemy team. Given that extreme, she never feels overly strong, despite the frustration of playing against her brings. Blizzard maintains a very delicate balance where characters always feel like they can contribute as long as the players know what they are doing. Good players will surely tip the balance in their favor, but most matches come down to building a cohesive composition and strong communication.
About that last part, the communication, like many competitive games, Overwatch has developed a bit of a…less than optimal attitude. This is no fault of the game, but Blizzard could be doing more to address toxicity. They’ve addressed some community concerns by strengthening their reporting system and setting ground rules for what is and is not toxic activity, but now they need to act on it and show to the community how they are working to fix the attitude of the game. There are too many people who seem to want to be the villain of their team’s story, and in those cases, evil tends to triumph over good.
If I have one complaint/suggestion (other than above), it would be that I want more new maps. There is a good variety of maps already, but post-launch additions like Eichenwalde and Oasis sometimes stand out above others because they have the benefit of being released with community feedback in mind. I would like to see Blizzard add more maps in year two of Overwatch, specifically to the Competitive and Quick Play modes. I wouldn’t say that the current maps are growing stale, but there are very well defined strategies that work on the launch maps. New maps mean new strats and more varied gameplay.
Overwatch enjoyed a level of success few games experience in their first year. Massive sales numbers, a strong community, and just downright fun gameplay, Overwatch is a fantastic game. I’m excited to see what year two will bring for new characters, maps, events, and even new story. If you haven’t started playing yet now is a great time to begin with the upcoming Anniversary event beginning on May 23rd and the free weekend from May 26-29. Keep an eye out for another follow-up on Overwatch’s story from Ross later this week.